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The Blackwing Diaries



animated cartoons are made by artists. whatever the method the goal is the same: the illusion of life



Updated: 2017-11-07T03:49:17.136-08:00

 



John Canemaker is blogging. You should read him.

2017-04-27T15:26:54.297-07:00

The banner for Canemaker's blog, with self-caricatureIf I always seem to be writing something about John Canemaker on this blog, there's a good reason-or  rather, many, many reasons: the Academy Award-winning filmmaker, NYU professor and author is always busy producing, hosting or posting something worth taking note of. So shoot me!The last time I saw him, a year ago at the opening of the Pinocchio exhibit he curated at the Walt Disney Family Museum, he mentioned he was thinking of starting a blog. "Do it!" I burbled, I'm sure he heard the same thing everywhere he voiced the thought, and so he did. I have several favorite authors of nonfiction-luckily for me, one of them also happens to write about animation, and now he's writing regularly-no waiting years for the next breath of clean, crisp narrative air. And boy, do we need it now. He's called it John Canemaker's Animated Eye, and it's off and running with great stuff.Just since February Canemaker has covered evenings with artists Floyd Norman, Jules Feiffer and Suzan Pitt-as disparate as they are fascinating; a piece about the unproduced projects compiled in the Disney studio's 1944 book release Surprise Package (in particular the Dick Huemer-Joe Grant original story "The Square World"; a reminiscence of a special conference on story in 1988 that gathered an incredible array of artists from Frank and Ollie to Joe Ranft to discuss the craft; a post about, of all people, Gertrude Lawrence and Walt meeting backstage during her run in the brilliant Kurt Weill/Moss Hart musical "Lady In the Dark"-with a surprising connection involving a champion of the work of Canemaker subject and animation genius Winsor McCay.Gertrude Lawrence, Bob Brotherton and Walt Disney in 1942. To read more about this encounter and the young man in the middle-and his other animation connections-go to John Canemaker's blog.This week, he writes of attending the premiere of "Dear Basketball", Kobe Bryant's animated collaboration with Glen Keane, John Williams and an elite group of animators assembled by Glen-one of whom is a recent graduate of Canemaker's NYU animation department, Aidan Terry. Terry joined the team after a recommendation by John in response to a query by the project's producer. The above is just a bit of what he's put online to date, and all of his posts are as much fun to look at as to read. Like one of his many books the accompanying photos and artwork in each one are rare, historic and fascinating. Going through them, it's remarkable how many connecting threads there are between the decades, cities, people and of all things, the art of animation and just art in general. And as for that last-make sure to look at the page of his own paintings. They're as colorful and graceful as the writer himself.Be sure and bookmark his page and have a look through his animated eye."Ivy Wall", a painting by John Canemaker, from his website.Artwork for a card, from Canemaker's website.Everything published on Blackwing Diaries is copyright Jennifer Lerew 2013; no unauthorized swiping and reposting of text or images from this site will be tolerated. Linking is one thing(I do too, of course), but plagarism is bad, bad, bad. Do NOT do it.[...]



An Afternoon with Richard Williams, his "Thief", and John Canemaker in NYC

2016-09-23T12:01:05.710-07:00

Dick Williams and John Canemaker in 1978, taken by the late Michael Sporn.I've been meaning to write about Richard Williams for a long time now, usually motivated by a happening somewhere that involves him, but each time it's slipped by with no post.While something longer, more personal and untethered to any upcoming dates is still to be done, I can't let this event go: tomorrow, Saturday the 24th at 4pm, Dick Williams will sit down at MoMA with his longtime friend and fellow animator (and Oscar winner) John Canemaker for a talk and to present some of his personal and very public works. Preceding the discussion at 1:30, Williams' last cut of "The Thief and the Cobbler" before it was wrested from his hands will screen. From MoMA's website:Richard Williams’s The Thief and the Cobbler is a legend in animation circles, both as a breathtakingly beautiful work of hand-drawn animation—a conscious attempt to better Walt Disney at his own game—and for its troubled production history. An Arabian Nights fantasy about a mischievous thief and a resourceful shoemaker who save a golden city from the clutches of a wicked vizier, the film entered production in 1964. As the scope widened and financiers came and went, production only reached an endpoint in 1992, when Williams lost control of the film and other animators were brought in to finish what was eventually released in the US, in a much altered version, as Arabian Knight. Luckily, Williams was able to make a copy of his work print as it existed on May 13, 1992, the last day of production, and the “moment in time” of the title. This print has been preserved and restored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Academy Film Archive. MoMA and the Academy are proud to be able to present the film’s New York premiere. The Thief and the Cobbler will be shown with Circus Drawings, a 2010 short that brings to life the sketches of a Spanish circus made by Mr. Williams in 1953.Layout drawing by Art Babbitt, from traditional animation.comYet another must-attend, thanks to Canemaker, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and MoMA.Everything published on Blackwing Diaries is copyright Jennifer Lerew 2013; no unauthorized swiping and reposting of text or images from this site will be tolerated. Linking is one thing(I do too, of course), but plagarism is bad, bad, bad. Do NOT do it.[...]



Wish Upon A Star: The Disney Family Museum's new exhibit devoted to Pinocchio-curated by John Canemaker

2016-07-17T14:33:35.847-07:00

The Diane Disney Miller Hall at the museum with original "Pinocchio" posters on display.Film critics, animation professionals, students and afficionados generally agree that the first five feature films released by the Walt Disney Studio achieved a standard they never surpassed. Where opinons diverge is which was the greatest, "best", most satisfying or artistically successful: "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs", Pinocchio", "Fantasia", "Dumbo" or "Bambi"? Just looking at the list makes comparisons and rankings seem beside the point. It's stupefying to consider what one place of business managed to produce within a span of seven-odd years, expanding and refining the art of animated film at a pace never equaled since.For me, the Disney studio's pinnacle was "Pinocchio". From its soaring, wistful opening music to exploring the darkest places a fairy tale can go and back again, it delivers entertainment via animated design and acting polished to the nth degree. Even the credits are beautifully presented. Imagine working with this group-for more than half of them, it would be their first time supervising:Now a new exhibit at the Walt Disney Family Museum makes it possible for a visitor to immerse themselves in the process of creating this magnificent film. Curated by the Academy Award-winning animator/historian/writer/professor John Canemaker, it's a beautifully presented, comprehensive journey through the making of an animated feature at Disney's in the late 1930s. In other words, for an animation student, fan or professional, it's bliss.To my knowledge there's never been as much original material from one of the original five productions on view before. Featuring materials from the Disney Museum's holdings, the Walt Disney Studio Archives, and many, many private sources, it's likely only an artist with the reputation, awareness and taste of Canemaker could have pulled it all off. The exhibit fills the two floors of the Diane Disney Miller Hall at the museum, starting on the second floor with Collodi's original book, and channeling the visitor through production design to story, animation, effects and camera. Film critics, animation professionals, students and afficionados generally agree that the first five feature films released by the Walt Disney Studio achieved a standard they never surpassed. Where opinons diverge is which was the greatest, "best", most satisfying or artistically successful: "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs", Pinocchio", "Fantasia", "Dumbo" or "Bambi"? Just looking at the list makes comparisons and rankings seem beside the point. It's stupefying to consider what one place of business managed to produce within a span of seven-odd years, expanding and refining the art of animated film at a pace never equaled since.Walt pitching "Pinocchio".All this is represented by a collection of over 300 treasures, including Ward Kimball's continuity script, original paintings by Tenggren, drawings by Hurter, many story sketches and layout drawings, animation roughs-both the originals under glass and reproduced on tables as thick sheafs of animation that can be flipped by guests. An area designed as Gepetto's workshop would be features original plaster maquettes of many of the characters made in Joe Grant's "model department"-including two different sculptures of Monstro the whale, Stromboli's caravan, and "real-sized", working marionettes of Pinocchio and one of the Dutch puppets from Stromboli's show(these are particularly-and typically-detailed and beautiful).From the Instagram account of the WDFM.Courtesy The WDFM Instagram account.In the animation area, you can pick up a phone to hear Frank Thomas describing how to handle animating Pinocchio-copied from a disc recording made by Frank, probably for the benefit of those animators and assistants who weren't invited to the live lecture he gave on the subject. In another room, a model has been made of the multiplane camera setup, showing visitors how the cameramen photographed the still-eyepopping pa[...]



« Nephtali » by Glen Keane

2015-09-15T10:47:20.033-07:00

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Pay Dirt: Michael Barrier's Interviews: Wilfred Jackson

2015-08-10T18:04:08.905-07:00

 From Barrier's blog, photographs of Jaxon posing for Bill Tytla's benefit on his "Night On Bald Mountian" animation. "Yeah, without a shirt" he says in the interview. "And don't think some of the fellows around the studio didn't have a lot of fun with those photostats."There are a few writers on animation without whose work there'd be little or no bedrock of history to learn from. These are the people who did first-person interviews with veterans now long dead, who made tremendous efforts to screen and analyze films not readily available anywhere, and who produced books that are essential reading for anyone who cares about the artform and the people who created it.  One of these is Michael Barrier, author of the best biography of Walt Disney, the best magazine on animation, and one of the very best all-around histories of the Hollywood-produced studio cartoon.  If you want to come to grips with what's been done in the animation industry-the how and the who and sort of "was it any good?" analysis that makes you think hard about what it all amounted to, you owe it to yourself to seek out his writing and pay regular visits to his website.My earliest exposure to Barrier was via copies of his aforementioned magazine "Funnyworld", which I happened across in a film bookshop on Hollywood Boulevard. After reading through it, I looked for as many back issues as I could find. In the 1970s the number of books on animated cartoons could be counted on one hand with fingers to spare; the number of critical magazines on the subject was exactly one. Reading through them was a revelation-here was discussion and analysis of not just Disney, but Warners' and other cartoons, with sometimes unforgiving, often wryly funny reviews and fascinating interviews with people like Bob Clampett and Dick Huemer!  It was dynamite. Funnyworld ended its run many years ago, but if visitors to this blog aren't already aware, Barrier has been posting his transcribed interviews on his website for some time, with his own introductory remarks to give them context.  He's just posted the first of two interviews he did with Disney director Wilfred Jackson, conducted in 1973 with his friend, animator Milt Gray, and none other than Bob Clampett in attendance, as he'd helped make the meeting happen(Barrier reports Jackson was initially reluctant to be interviewed).The transcription makes terrific reading, as with all of these conversations Barrier recorded. You'd certainly never know Disney veteran Jackson had any reservations given his candid and expansive replies to every question.  It's also fun to witness how much of an unabashed fan the legendary-in-his-own-right Clampett was-at one point he prompts the Disney veteran to remember how easy it was to peek in on the Disney artists working from the Hyperion studio driveway!  He doesn't say it, but you can't help suspecting that's exactly what young Bob did.  The interview is a long one, but there's no fat in it at all-"Jaxon" as he was called at the studio in notes(or "Jack", by Walt, apparently) is direct, incredibly humble and, judging from his remarks about his former coworkers, a wonderfully kind guy.  His memories are charming, modest and clear. He began at Disney's Hyperion studio as an assistant to the janitor washing cels. Walt had turned him down as not good enough for an animation job, but relented after Jackson begged Walt to either let him work for work for free, or pay Disney for the privilege of learning on the job.  He started a week before the studio lost most of its core staff, along with Oswald, creating an opportunity he was eager to try and exploit.  Jackson covers a lot of ground in clear-eyed detail, from his earliest attempts at in-betweening (which he completely botched),  through his rise in the ranks to a director of shorts and sequence director on t[...]



New Book Review: The Lost Notebook: Herman Schultheis & the Secrets of Walt Disney's Movie Magic

2014-09-14T15:28:00.092-07:00

It takes a long time to look through John Canemaker's new book  The Lost Notebook: Herman Schultheis and the Secrets of Walt Disney's Movie Magic, and it should. Nearly 300 pages are filled with examples of every aspect of Disney's production: drawings, model sheets, camera setups, and hundreds upon hundreds of photographs of how shots were achieved, animators at work, models posing for animators, reference photos of animals and humans, cels, drawings, the Burbank studio being built, "The Reluctant Dragon" live action production, Bambi, Fantasia, Dumbo, Pinocchio. Numerous examples of Freddie Moore's girl drawings(reference for Fantasia's centaurettes), miniatures and models...from an effects perspective, but also just everything that clearly interested the compiler, Herman Schultheis, personally. With few exceptions none of it would normally ever be seen by the public, and most of it never has been-until now.A page showing development for FantasiaInk & paint artist Mildred Rossi is sketched by Ethel Kulsar during production of Reluctant DragonOne has to wonder if John Canemaker or Howard Lowery, both as knowledgable as anyone alive about the history of the Walt Disney Studio, had ever heard the name Herman Schultheis when his notebooks chronicling working life at Disney came to light some 15 years ago.  He wasn't a painter or  draughtsman, animator or story artist. His employment at Disney's was brief, lasting barely more than two years. In a time when so few of the rank and file of animation received any sort of public acknowledgment he was obscure-one man among hundreds working at Hyperion and Burbank on Pinocchio, Bambi, Fantasia, and the rest of the landmark output of that greatest of studios.  He remained unknown as the decades progressed and the films made during his tenure there became known as the "golden age', and historians, students, buffs and professionals who cared about animation learned the names and accomplishments of many of his colleagues.Anyone studying the histories of those working at Disney's at its peak finds an impressive roster of geniuses, misfits, iconoclasts, goofballs and self-made men and women, but even in that company Herman Schultheis was an odd duck. Ambitious, egocentric, tremendously talented and curious, he was in love with the filmmaking process before he gave any thought to applying at Disney. A man fascinated by details, he compulsively and enthusiastically cataloged everything he did, but especially everything he saw.Schultheis had emigrated to the United States from Germany in 1927 when he was already 27 years old. Initially living and seeking work on the east coast, he had, quoting from Canemaker's text:[A] degree in electrical engineering, a gift for photography, a thorough knowledge of music, and a love of travel". He was charming, indefatigably ambitious and without a shred of self-doubt. But as Canemaker points out, though talented(particularly as a photographer), Schultheis was indeed a "jack of all trades, master of none"-such a distinction then as now making the kind of all-encompassing creative and technical work he craved hard to come by. After various jobs in NY, he moved to Hollywood determined to work in the motion picture industry-ideally as a sort of uber-supervising creative engineer, to judge from his letters and self-promotion. Although he worked some very good connections, none of the studios could quite figure out how to use him and nothing panned out-until he managed to talk his way into a job at the Disney Studios on Hyperion.  Hired to apply his skill in the Process Lab, he was paid for an initial trial period the princely sum of $40 a week. This at a time when, according to animation director Shamus Culhane in his memoirs, animation trainees hired right off the street were paid $50. But it was something, and it was a job at a film studio-albeit animation.Details of some of Fantasia's effects-[...]



John Canemaker in Los Angeles: Thursday 9/11 at the Central Library, LACMA on Saturday, September 13: Gertie, Fantasia and...SCHULTHEIS!

2014-09-07T23:50:39.280-07:00

It's always an event when John Canemaker comes to Los Angeles-literally. In 2012 he was here to present and moderate a program honoring the work of John and Faith Hubley, a fascinating and wonderful evening.  Now in September we have an embarrassment of riches.This coming Thursday it's a double dose of Canemaker and author and author/librarian Christina Rice, both authors of new books on the enigmatic Herman Schultheis. They'll be reading and signing in downtown's Central Library from 6 to 8pm, and the event is free.Then on Saturday, a triple threat: on Saturday, Sept. 13th, John will be at the Bing theater at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art celebrating the 100th birthday of Gertie the dinosaur, discussing (and doubtless showing) the amazing notebook of Disney effects artist Herman Schultheis-now published in all its priceless glory thanks to Canemaker's new book, The Lost Notebook: Herman Schultheis and the Secrets of Disney's Movie Magic.  Tomorrow I'll review the book-it's a whopper.Lastly, to compliment and demonstrate the innovative and jaw-dropping work Schultheis transcribed, there'll be a screening of Fantasia.Presented by the Motion Picture Academy under the heading "Animation Masters"(and held at the Bing as the Academy's own theater is undergoing renovations through the end of the year),  this jam-packed evening will set you back all of $5 per person($3 for students), so there's simply no excuse not to go. There's no one I know of who speaks on animated film with the intelligence, authority and grace of John Canemaker. He's our preeminent historian, author and advocate, and just a great host besides. I've been reading his indispensable books and watching him present programs for over thirty years and as is plain, I'm a big fan. You of the animation community owe it to yourselves to make the trip to the museum this coming Saturday.  Be there!Thursday, September 11L.A. In Focus: Lost & Found-The Los Angeles Photographs of Herman SchultheisCentral Library, Mark Taper Auditorium6-8pmSaturday, September 13thAnimation Masters: John Canemaker on Gertie, The Lost Notebook, and FantasiaLos Angeles County Museum of Art, Bing Theater5905 Wilshire Blvd, Los AngelesGertie The Dinosaur screening and presentation will begin at 6pm; the Schultheis program at 7:30. and Fantasia will screen at 8:45Tickets are available by clicking here.Everything published on Blackwing Diaries is copyright Jennifer Lerew 2013; no unauthorized swiping and reposting of text or images from this site will be tolerated. Linking is one thing(I do too, of course), but plagarism is bad, bad, bad. Do NOT do it.[...]



Women In Animation

2014-03-14T14:57:44.018-07:00

This Saturday, March 15, I'm moderating a panel at the Walt Disney Family Museum where I'll be talking with Claire Keane, Lorelay Bove, and Brenda Chapman about their experiences in the animation business, and their lives as animation artists.Last October the museum also asked if I would write an essay for their quarterly on the subject of women in animation, past and present, which follows here.In the 1970s there was one must-have for every aspiring young animator's bookshelf: Christopher Finch's oversized, heavy and beautiful The Art of Walt Disney.  Illustrated books detailing the history of animation, and more specifically, the Disney Studio, were almost nonexistent at the time; and at over 400 pages the Finch book was something I pored over for hours. I'd already fixed on the idea of being an animator, seeing it as the perfect career to marry my love of drawing, film, and performance.  I considered animation to be "the illusion of life": turning lines on a page into characters that lived and breathed in an invented world of color, design and graphic imagination.Every page of Finch's book was filled with story sketches, animator's roughs, background paintings, and photographs– not just of Walt Disney, but also of his artists working at their desks, drawing just as I did and looking not much older than I was. But they were working on such memorable films as Snow White, Pinocchio, and Bambi.  Decades before I was born they'd managed to achieve the gold standard: working at the greatest animation studio in the world on films whose influence would long outlive them.The old images fascinated me and I wanted to know more about them. One was particularly striking.  It showed a young woman, Retta Scott, animating on Fantasia.  While far from being an expert in either social history or 1930s studio-hiring practices, I knew that a woman employed as an animator in those days was rare, and that this had been the case from the beginning. The form of cartooning which preceded and inspired animated cartoons and newspaper comic strips, also had many more men than women employed in the field, and this disparity carried over into the new medium of animated cartoons. With rare exceptions, cartooning/animation work became a "guy's thing," though the intended audience for the cartoons and comic strips was both male and female.So, by the mid-1930s, it seemed that any woman with artistic talent or experience who applied to a studio for work in animation was limited to a career in the "ink and paint" department, doing the crucial but creatively stultifying tasks of tracing animators' drawings on celluloid and painting the underside. This was by necessity an assembly-line sort of job, and while the women who did it were rightfully proud of their skills, the work certainly didn't allow for individual expression.  But there was Retta Scott, engaged in what was a traditionally male job. She was an anomaly—a female animator!  I later learned that Scott had worked in the story department as well as in animation, and in fact, there had been other women assigned to the story and development departments, including Sylvia Moberly-Holland, Bianca Majolie, and most famously, Retta's friend Mary Blair, whose career and influence would extend further than many of her colleagues'.In the 1930s and '40s, a confluence of talent, opportunity, timing and connections were required for a talented woman to land a creative job at Disney.  This was also true for the men but to a lesser degree. It's impossible to know how many women who aspired to be animation artists were actively discouraged from trying, but certainly some were, as evidenced by the Disney Studio's 1930s form letter sent in response to women inquiring about jobs as artists. It stated that "women do not do any of the creative work in connection with preparing the cart[...]



Magic! Color! FLAIR! The World of Mary Blair exhibit is opening March 13, 2014

2014-03-12T14:26:58.809-07:00

Is there anyone in animation who isn't excited by the work of Mary Blair?  Oh, probably a few misanthropes or those who go the contrarian route, but Blair's gargantuan reputation grows year after year for good reason. Many have spoken and written about her influence more eloquently than I ever could, but nothing beats seeing the real thing, up close and personal. To this end the Walt Disney Family Museum is opening the largest show to date of Blair's accomplishments both inside and outside animation.  Curated by Oscar-winning animator, writer (and Blair biographer) and NYU professor John Canemaker, this promises to be a must-see, and woe to the lover of Disneyana, animation, graphic art, illustration, midcentury design, and plain old genius who misses it. Here's a bit from the Museum's description to whet your appetite:MAGIC, COLOR, FLAIR: the world of Mary Blair features some 200 works and explores all phases of Blair’s work by examining her artistic development in three major areas: “Learning the Rules”—her student days at Los Angeles’ legendary Chouinard School of Art, and her fine art regionalist watercolors exhibited in the 1930s. “Breaking the Rules”—her artistic breakthrough with boldly colored, stylized concept paintings for classic Disney animated features during the 1940s and 1950s, including Saludos Amigos (1942) and Peter Pan (1953); and “Creating New Worlds”—freelancing in the 1950s in New York where she became a popular illustrator for national advertisements, magazine articles, clothing designs, window displays, theatrical sets, and children’s books.The exhibition includes Blair’s rarely exhibited student art, which was influenced by the illustrations of her mentor Pruett Carter, and her mid-to-late artworks from the 1930s as a member of the innovative California Water-Color Society which reveal an essential humanism and empathy for her subjects. The exhibition also showcases The Walt Disney Family Museum’s extensive collection of Blair’s conceptual artworks in gouache and watercolor—some of which have never displayed outside The Walt Disney Studios—that reveal the artist’s inexhaustible creativity in design, staging of imagery, visual appeal, and unique color sensibility. In addition, Canemaker's biography of Mary, The Art and Flair of Mary Blair, is now republished in an updated edition with a new cover and much-enhanced color reproductions. The title page from the new exhibition catalog/book.And there'll be a 172 page exhibition catalog in hardcover, also written by Canemaker. Preview and order it here.A little digression here: in talking about this show with my coworkers, I'm disappointed to find a fair number of southern Californians haven't yet visited the Disney Museum, and there are also a few who aren't even aware it exists.  The latter I can't explain, but I have to ruefully acknowledge that as close as San Francisco is, given the schedules and demands of working life it sometimes seems that it might as well be located in Bangor, Maine. Happily for all of us this isn't the case, and I would urge anyone with the least interest in Walt Disney and the animation arts to just get in the car and go. I've been guilty too, not having made the bay area trip for several years until last November, when I attended a panel on the work of Bruno Bozzetto with Canemaker, John Musker, and David Silverman, and saw their fantastic exhibit on Tyrus Wong. It was a one-day trip up and back, and absolutely worth it. The museum is truly an amazing place, and if animation folk want it to continue to exist, we need to support its mission and hopefully, attend its exhibitions and events. Magic Color Flair the world of Mary Blair runs from March 13 to September 7.The Walt Disney Family Museum104 Mont[...]



Michael Sporn 1946-2014 "The wind is rising...we must try to live."

2014-01-30T19:39:20.606-08:00

Michael Sporn looking over Richard Williams' shoulder during production of "Raggedy Ann and Andy". Photograph by John Canemaker, from his book.Last weekend, thanks in large part to three consecutive days off, I was finally able to watch a few screeners. One of them was Hayao Miyazaki's "The Wind Rises", which I'd been very much looking forward to(happily subtitled instead of dubbed-always the way I prefer to go).  I knew the basics of the story-that it was about the life of the designer of the Japanese Zero fighter plane, Jiro Horikoshi, albeit somewhat fictionalized, and that as a result it was a more "adult" sort of film from Miyazaki-but that was all.The next two hours were a revelation. I loved "Spirited Away" and enjoyed the somewhat-contentious-among-my-friends charms of "Ponyo", but sitting through "The Wind Rises" gave me the same sensation I had watching my first Miyazaki films-"Totoro", "Nausicaä ","Kiki's Delivery Service", and "Porco Rosso"-the wonder of watching a graphically told story play out with absolutely no idea what might happen next, thinking, "I can't believe how beautiful this is".And one of the first things I thought was "I wonder what Michael Sporn thinks about this. I have to visit his blog(or as he called it, Splog)". But my first stop upon pulling out my laptop was Facebook, where the first post I saw was one expressing sorrow that Michael had died.What! Died? No...Both Michael and I started our blogs in the fall of 2005; I quickly discovered his thanks to comments he left on my posts. Of course I knew who he was, thanks to John Canemaker's The Animated Raggedy Ann and Andy , a book that served as my introduction to Richard Williams, Corny Cole, Tissa David, the ins and outs of feature animation production, the animation artist's life, the history of some veteran giants in the business, and last but not least a great introduction to a gaggle of young artists just starting out-including Eric Goldberg, Dan Haskett, Tom Sito, and Michael Sporn.  All that, and fantastic illustrations and photographs. It's quite a book(in my opinion the most honest and accurate about the behind the scenes of animation production), and though out of print, still very much worth getting and reading, as are all of Canemaker's titles.Of the young guys profiled in "Raggedy Ann", Haskett, Goldberg, and Sito eventually made their way to the once and future mecca of feature animation, Los Angeles. Michael Sporn stayed in his native New York and started his own studio-a studio that has remained in operation for 34 years. That's a pretty astonishing feat both personally and professionally. In fact, I doubt if any of the animation production houses that existed in 1980 exist today, or have for many years. The economy, changes in the tastes and whims of commercial production, dwindling funding for projects from PBS and other entities...all have contributed to a depressing attrition rate for independent-minded artists and companies. Add to all that the ever-skyrocketing costs of living and working in New York, and the fact that Michael maintained his studio and thrived is a wonderful thing.From his "Doctor DeSoto", which was nominated for an Oscar in 1984.Michael Sporn Animation, Inc. did so much work, in so many styles and on so many different projects-television, film titles-even an animated segment for a Broadway show. There's far more than I can detail here in this post right now-but go and have a google. Recently Michael had started work on "Poe", a personal project that looked fantastic.From "Poe"So I knew him from his profile in the book, I'd seen his work(often not knowing it was his)on television, but what I didn't know-until I began reading his indispensable Splog, was what an incredible animation historian, scholar, and fan he was.  I'd started[...]



Diane Disney Miller 1933-2013

2013-11-19T16:15:29.338-08:00

 
Sad news. By all accounts a very smart, gutsy, caring, determined woman: daughter, wife, mother, sister, philanthropist.
 
 
 

(image)
Outside the Walt Disney Family Museum.
 Here are Michael Barrier's impressions of his visit to the Disney Museum in San Francisco-the very existence of which is due to Diane Miller's vision and hard work.




Books: David Derrick's new picturebook-tigers and crocs!

2013-10-22T17:50:00.651-07:00

A stack of worthy and notable titles has been growing on my desk, demanding attention and certainly deserving it but my gosh, it's been a busy year offline.So the stack waits for proper reviews, but there's one that has a launch party coming up in the Los Angeles area on Saturday, October 26th (as of this writing four days away) at the Wildlife Learning Center, and I'd like to spread the word. It's a picture book written and illustrated by my friend, fellow story artist Dave Derrick: Dave loves drawing, and he really loves to draw animals. This little story about a junior crocodile and tiger cub doing their best to out-boast each other is loaded with charm, done with gestural ink line and watercolor wash. A detail of the cub. This guy suggests a self-portrait to me-in that way that certain drawings seem to look like their artists. Hard to explain, but I'm sure plenty will know what I mean.     The endpapers feature a panoply of the animals and birds of India, the story's setting.   Using this flyer-either printing it out or bringing it along on your phone-assures admission for Dave's launch event. Should be a fun time!Everything published on Blackwing Diaries is copyright Jennifer Lerew 2013; no unauthorized swiping and reposting of text or images from this site will be tolerated. Linking is one thing(I do too, of course), but plagarism is bad, bad, bad. Do NOT do it.[...]



Devin Crane at Galerie Arludik, Sept 5-Oct 31

2013-09-06T12:38:07.083-07:00

Where has the summer gone? For me it's been spent in a lot of work wielding the Wacom stylus, seeing films, and travel-my first vacation in 18 months.Meanwhile there's been plenty to comment on, take note of and blog about-including this new show in Paris of paintings and drawings by my friend, Dreamworks visdev artist Devin Crane. It's just opened at Galerie Arludik. He's shown there before, several years ago, but this time there are some of his lovely drawings on display as well as his jewel-toned paintings. If you're going to be near the Île Saint Louis in the near future, go and check it out-they really must be seen in person.La Belle et la Bete19” x 24”(48.26 x 60.96 cm)Graphite on PaperMidnightat the Hotel Costes17” x 28”(43.18 x 71.12 cm)Acrylic on Wood Panel  Margaux8” x 10”(20.32 x 25.4 cm)Oil on CanvasDevin Crane: Dreams, Fashion and Fairy TalesGalerie ArludikParis, FranceThursday, September 5 - 21, 2013Everything published on Blackwing Diaries is copyright Jennifer Lerew 2013; no unauthorized swiping and reposting of text or images from this site will be tolerated. Linking is one thing(I do too, of course), but plagarism is bad, bad, bad. Do NOT do it.[...]



The Imagineering Story: Disney's WED gets the Iwerks treatment in 2016

2013-08-22T11:06:14.978-07:00

Have a look at this trailer, premiered at the recent D23 event and written up in Los Angeles Magazine by Chris Nichols:

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It's being produced by a filmmaker with sterling credentials for the job, documentarian Leslie Iwerks-granddaughter of Ub and daughter of Imagineer Don.
 
This promises to be a must-see that I only wish weren't three years away. Behind the scenes footage of the early days of Disneyland and  EPCOT always gets me as it clearly does so many others: seeing Walt's pitching skills at their finest, giving us "tours" and glimpses inside Flower St. buildings with mind-bendingly talented men and women working away inside...great stuff, and fortunately there are still veterans from those years that appear in Iwerks' film to speak for themselves and their experiences, among them Alice Davis and Bob Gurr.
 
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From the LA magazine post-a shot of Walt with-is it Anaheim city officials?-taken around 1949 or so. My guess based on his appearance. I should know better, but don't.The article credits the Orange County Archives.
 



A Blackwing Experience at the Chuck Jones Center

2013-07-02T18:01:28.007-07:00



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This must be from "The White Seal".


Tonight I'm participating in a swell shindig down in Costa Mesa, "The Blackwing Experience", arranged by Palomino, the people who've brought back the title character of this blog, the redoubtable Blackwing 602, in new and elegant versions. It's taking place at the Chuck Jones Center for Creativity in Costa Mesa, an apropos venue as the 602 was reputedly Chuck's drawing implement of choice.  I'll be part of a panel discussing the "evolution of the creative process in animation". Quite a subject, and should be fun.


To mark the occasion, here are the two drawings by Chuck that I own, bought for a few bucks at Collectors Bookshop in Hollywood in the late 70s. I believe a Blackwing figures prominently here.

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Detail of a layout from "Rikki Tikki Tavi"

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The larger layout. It's been a long time since I watched these specials, and I'd like to look them up again. 




Bob Clampett, 100 and counting

2013-05-13T12:30:24.499-07:00

I was just visiting one of the most important animation blogs on the 'net-Michael Barrier's, to catch up, and saw he'd done a lovely post marking the 100th birthday of Bob Clampett, on May 8th. Good grief, I missed it. Of course, every day is a good day to remember Clampett-that wonderful, nutty, brilliant and lovable cartoon genius.  Following is my Bob Clampett birthday post from 2006:I volunteered to work during the ASIFA annual cel sale in 1981; Bob Clampett happened to be there signing these preprinted drawings; his wife Sody was with him. I introduced myself, finally, after years of wanting to really meet him. In addition to being a fan, I mentioned I'd gone to Third Street with his daughters, thus the way he signed this paper, which I treasure. All we spent our time talking about was what Ruthie and Cherie were doing--both their mom and dad were just nuts about them, so proud of them. I saw Ruth once after that, when she worked at H.G.Daniels, the old art store that supplied the old Chouinard school, then later Otis. Now long gone.I mentioned before that I've had a long relationship with the great Bob Clampett. It was 99.9% all from me to Bob and not the other way 'round, but nevertheless he was a formative influence on my little psyche. And in one of those bizarre details life throws at you, I discovered that two of my schoolmates at Third Street in Los Angeles had a closer connection to him--they were his daughters, Ruth and Cherie. These girls were very notable for their gorgeous red hair and freckles--perfect colleens...and I'd occasionally see them with their dad or mom Sody shopping on Larchmont(Hancock Park and its environs in those days was what an adult friend of mine, Cammie King, called "a little Peyton Place"; you'd run into everyone on Saturdays at Safeway or the dry cleaners. Small town L.A.). I was just nuts for Cecil the Sea Sick Sea Serpent as a wee--really wee--child; although we moved six times before I was in the 7th grade, I managed to salvage my Cecil soaky as a kind of talisman from my earliest memories.So I knew Clampett as a famous God of bizarre and cheaply made cartoons before I knew him as the director of some of the weirdest, wildest and most appealingly hilarious cartoons ever made at Warner Bros, starring another of my baby heroes, Bugs Bunny. That took a good while because the Bugs Bunny/Roadrunner Show, the venue through which I first saw the WB characters, was limited to later cartoons made well after Clampett left. I was probably 12 or 13 before I finally saw "Book Revue" or "Corny Concerto" as part of the KTTV afterschool series--the one with the cheap, handmade intro featurning a plastic Porky toy held in front of a backdrop of some kind. Great stuff and good times. I think Bob Clampett was nuts in the best sense. He was certainly brilliant, and different, and he managed to translate his own personality and essence so strongly and successfully into film and art--and at such a young age, that I'd also be plenty comfortable calling him a genius. He's the only person in cartoons I know of who can make violence and hysteria happy things. You have to see the cartoons--especially with an audience--to get the full impact of this weird melange. So happy birthday, Mr. Clampett. You're missed.tags technorati : animation, warner bros cartoons, cartoons, bob clampett, Everything published on Blackwing Diaries is copyright Jennifer Lerew 2013; no unauthorized swiping and reposting of text or images from this site will be tolerated. Linking is one thing(I do too, of course), but plagarism is bad, bad, bad. Do NOT do it.[...]



Adam and Dog: The ineffable beauty of drawn animation

2013-02-20T18:51:58.894-08:00

Drawings of Dog by Minkyu Lee. Drawing of Adam by Minkyu Lee. in·ef·fa·ble/ɪnˈɛfəbəl/ Show Spelleadjective 1. incapable of being expressed or described in words; inexpressible: ineffable joy.  One late night about eighteen months ago, my officemate and fellow story artist Justin Hunt walked in with an animation sequence under his arm. It was old-school 2D, immediately identifiable by the sandwich of paper and cardboard secured with extra-long rubber bands. Here was something novel! Surrounded by cintiqs and working on cg films in studios where prosaic objects like pencils and paper are barely in evidence, just seeing a sheaf of hand drawn animation produces plenty of thrills-and I hadn't even bugged him to flip it for me yet.  When he did, I became more and more interested; the drawings were lovely. Just based on that one short scene I wanted to see the whole thing, though I'd have to wait a while. And I wanted to know why and how it was being done.It turned out that Justin was one of a small, tight-knit group of friends helping Minkyu Lee complete the animation for a short film he was writing, directing and storyboarding, and animating. And designing, and painting all the backgrounds. I first wrote about Minkyu and his film "Adam and Dog" a year ago, just before it won an Annie award. It was in an earlier, slightly unfinished state at that time, but the elements that make it the wonderful film that it is were all solidly there. Now it's another year, and it's one of 2013's five nominees for the Academy Award for animated short.  It's a richly deserved nod, and as I'm one of the corny ones who actually believes the old canard that the real honor is simply in being nominated by one's peers(in this case, members of the animation branch of AMPAS), it's already a winner, as are the other 4 shorts in that category.  But this film is special to me; it pushes all my buttons, and I thought I'd have a go at explaining why. Adam, completely comfortable in his Eden. Drawing by Minkyu Lee.   It's not necessarily difficult to make drawings move, but it can be well-nigh impossible to make them real-to live, to breathe, to exist on their own terms in whatever world the filmmaker decides to present them. The Story of Adam and Dog is simple, and all the more powerful for being so: The Fall from the point of view of the first dog in Eden. Although, being a dog, he sees and understands nothing so much as the joy of finding and bestowing all his loyalty and love on the first human being he meets and bonds with(and eventually, it's hinted, the second one also).What I've described has the potential for a charming story, and a sweet and clever short could have been made that was just that and nothing more. But-and here's the thing that's so difficult to describe as cogently as I'd like-in this case, this film has been crafted with every element contributing to a result that has the layered, emotional impact of the very best of any sort of animation, short form or long. Or any sort of film making, for that matter. What's called traditional character animation-that is, drawings and paintings in two dimensions-just aren't featured in this sort of style anymore, and by style I mean not just the lushness and soft, illustrative quality of its look, but the serious, thoughtful and truly unique pacing, the choices of shots, the editing. I think it was the pure film making tha[...]



Para-nimation

2012-08-14T12:34:18.311-07:00

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A model of the title character's house from "ParaNorman" on display at an Arclight theater.

There's a nice article about Laika in the New York Times today. While not tremendously in-depth, it's a neat bit of context for the release of the Portland studio's"ParaNorman" this Friday.
Moving Ahead in Stop Motion/With ‘ParaNorman,’ Laika Aims to Push Animation Boundaries

It's a wonderful and fairly astounding thing that not one but several studios are busy making animated features in this viscerally appealing, supposedly "throwback" technique.  At SIGGRAPH in 2008 Laika had a booth filled with puppets, sets and props from their then-unreleased "Coraline"; I could have stared at it all for hours, and the resulting film was a happy experience-different, moody, ambitious, and in many moments and respects very beautiful.

When I was launched on the Aardman/Dreamworks production "Flushed Away" in 2008 I went into the conference room to hear a pitch of the film and get my first assignment. Before they began the directors, David Bowers and Sam Fell, put a puppet of a character from "Chicken Run"-Fetcher the rat-into my hands. At that point it was going to be a stop motion, not CG, film. Looking at this little plasticine figure in his miniscule tatty clothes, charming, completely solid and three dimensional, was an inspiration; I just wanted to see him move-to act.
Artists have a tremendous soft spot for handmade things, don't we?



"Art of Brave" Book Signing and Talk at Gallery Nucleus This Saturday

2012-06-21T13:08:35.382-07:00

This Saturday, June 23, Gallery Nucleus  is hosting an "Art of Brave" panel. Present, signing and speaking-and in the case of the two esteemed Pixar artists, showing-will be myself, story artist Emma Coats and visual development artist Paul Abadilla.Nucleus, by the way, is a great space, and always has interesting art in its constantly changing exhibits and on sale in its store-often by animation artists exercising their creative urges outside of their day jobs. It's well worth a visit when in Southern California. See you there!Art of BRAVE Artist Panel & Book SigningOpening Reception / Saturday, Jun 23 12:00PM - 3:00PMGallery Nucleus210 East Main St, Alhambra CA 91801 Store 626.458.7482 Gallery 626.458.7477 Everything published on Blackwing Diaries is copyright Jennifer Lerew 2013; no unauthorized swiping and reposting of text or images from this site will be tolerated. Linking is one thing(I do too, of course), but plagarism is bad, bad, bad. Do NOT do it.[...]



The New York Times on the design of Brave's Merida

2012-06-20T17:15:39.068-07:00


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Matt Nolte's early sketch of Elinor tangling with Merida's unruly mane. c. Disney/Pixar
On June 15th the New York Times ran a very nice piece dealing with the design development of Merida, the heroine of "Brave". See it here.

And not only see, but hear: as is often done at the Times, there's an accompanying slide show of artwork with narration by production dsigner Steve Pilcher and directors Brenda Chapman and Mark Andrews.

I've been looking forward to seeing the finished film for some time, and will finally get my chance this Friday. I saw it three times (most recently in March of 2011), but it's existed for me mainly as the preproduction work and vibrant thoughts of its artists-the material for my book, "The Art of Brave". Tomorrow I'll post a little about writing it.



Trailer: "Longway North", aka "Tout en Haut du Monde"

2012-03-14T16:50:47.777-07:00

At lunch today with several of my story colleagues the talk turned to films as yet unreleased, those in different styles and with potential we find exciting and inspiring-in other words, the usual banter. Johane Mate mentioned a trailer she'd seen for an upcoming French feature that really engaged her. It sounded like something I had to have a look at. Having just done so I think you should, too. Its english title is "Longway North":
allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="225" mozallowfullscreen="" src="http://player.vimeo.com/video/38442550?title=0&byline=0&portrait=0" webkitallowfullscreen="" width="400">
Pilote Tout en Haut du Monde / Longway North from Sacrebleu Productions on Vimeo.


I just love the look of this. The director is Rémi ChayéDisney story artist extraordinare Paul Briggs points out that there's a production blog here. While I was turned onto this today, he had it up last night. Indefatigable Briggs! Be sure & visit his blog.



On Story: Life is in the details

2012-03-10T20:57:01.676-08:00

If anything from my experience of the last 15 years or so has made itself clear to me as a story truism, it's that the importance of the smallest details matter.The difference between a dull scene or stock character and one that breathes, that thinks, is in the details. Details spring out and suggest themselves when the story artist believes in a character's reality no matter how superficially unlikely the scenario they're placed in might be.There are times when a story artist is given a sequence that's already laid out pretty extensively: the characters must say this or that, do this, that and the other thing, get from here to there. You might think that that would be a boring sort of sequence to work on. Not necessarily. Of course one wants to be as creative as one can, but in putting a feature film together there's not always an opportunity to start from scratch(and if there always is, the film's probably in trouble). Does that mean there's no room for the story guy to have fun, to make an impression, to enhance or "create" the scene? Far from it. But you'd better believe in the characters you're working with. If you do, wonderful things can happen. Some of it might wander off in a direction that will result in the kibosh being put on the sequence in whole or in part--a great big old redo. But sometimes (often enough if you're both lucky and inspired) a sudden, truthful idea will pop up out of nowhere and work so well it's just got to go in. No one planned for it until it struck--you didn't see it until you were least expecting it, surrounded at your desk by crumpled paper and worn down stubs. Suddenly it's there, and it seems exactly the thing the character should say or do at that moment. If it really is as right as it feels, it'll make it into the film. You'd be surprised how often that happens in spite of any and all obstacles.This to me is the most exciting, rewarding part of my job, but it's not a daily occurrence--it couldn't be. Films just don't play with too much going on at every second, all the time. They flow in a narrative dance in any of a million permutations, all with one commonly understood goal: to tell you a story. And I should mention that the function of your storyboards is twofold: not only are you designing the action within the frame, but most importantly you're responsible for setting the mood and emotion of the scene--that's how it's supposed to be, anyway. This really can't be stressed too strongly. The times that a completely flat, emotionless story sequence didn't work in boards but came to life in animation, out of nowhere, is exactly zero. Can sequences be plussed by animation? You bet, and they almost always are--hugely. The medium is about moving drawings/characters, after all. But plussing has to start from something. The drawings needn't necessarily be fancy, but they must certainly read and communicate. We in animation have a big hurdle, a doozy: we have to take a two-dimensional, stylized design of a character and entice the audience into caring about it. I believe the key to doing that is to lend the characters your faith while you board them--to invest them with little parts of your life in the form of those little details.All of this comes from you, from your own real, personal experience and your unique observations. To have to squeeze the wonky story-peg into a predetermined hole doesn't always work. Often these characters take over, just a bit. Or a bit more than a bit. To know when and how to apply your observat[...]



On Story: No reason to sacrifice character to plot

2012-03-06T18:22:55.779-08:00

This is a reposting of a Diaries entry from March 2006 that I think bears revisiting. Michael Sporn posted this still of Bill Peet-taken from the Sword in the Stone DVD-on his blog in 2008 Michael Barrier makes some sharp--and challenging--comments about the point of great character animation in his most recent post. He describes his friend, animator Milt Gray, flipping some of Ollie Johnston's animation of "Jock" from Lady and the Tramp, and being startled by the amazingly lifelike performance that sprung off the pages. Barrier continues: The great virtue of Disney films like Lady and the Tramp was that they showed that such animation is possible. Their great vice was that they seemed to say, in a louder voice over time, that such animation is possible only in children's films.As a result, the temptation, if you're making more "adult" films, is surely to shrug off the Disney animators' lessons; but there's no way, if you're doing that, to achieve the emotional strength of their best work. A lot of animated filmmakers seem to think that they can work around that problem by making "story" their mantra, or by simply ignoring the question of how to give animated characters a vivid presence on the screen. But such dodges never succeed. It's only by meeting head-on the challenge of making the characters in their films as real as the best live actors that animated filmmakers will ever escape from the ghetto to which they have been, so far, rightly assigned.Tough words...but I know what he's talking about, and I suspect most of my colleagues do, too.To turn Barrier's premise inside-out, though, there have been some Disney films where "story" took a backseat to characters. In that category I'd put "Sword in the Stone" and "Jungle Book", both films I saw and loved as a kid and still love--but mainly for the performances of such as Shere Khan, Archimedes, Merlin and King Louis--not for the relatively weak story/plot and the corniest gags that are in them. Were the characters in those films not as entertaining and real as they are, there'd be pretty much nothing there but color and movement.It's been said by wiser heads than mine that in the latter days of the nine old men, they were actors without a worthy stage, much like Laurence Olivier giving it his all in "Boys From Brazil" or "The Betsy". Feature animation was in a general doldrums; the kidvid ghetto was going full bore on TV, and there was no guiding hand at the world's most sophisticated animation company. It seemed to operate on the inertia of a more energetic time. I think there are definitely pitfalls in having a story "mantra" that ignores just who's doing what in a film, though it's never intentional to sacrifice personality for plot--the aim is almost always the opposite, in fact.Maybe there's a perception among non-artists of animation as having some sort of special needs, since our characters aren't seen in early development as castable flesh and blood actors, but are drawings and designs.Of course the very, very early, embryonic beginnings of a feature film are a story's premise. If there isn't any story there to tell, well, that's trouble. It needn't be at as big as an epic, it can be small and even personal--but in the end it has to connect with a wide audience, and more than plot it's characters who carry that burden.So to continue and develop that premise, assuming the story has something to work with it really does depend on the characters(that goes fo[...]



Fred Moore Pinup Girls up for auction today

2012-03-02T10:24:01.689-08:00































This typical Fred Moore group of ladies en deshabille is being auctioned online today by Heritage. It's lot 78744, 12x13.5", watercolor and ink mounted on cardboard(as were many of Fred's "presentation" girls), and described as being from the estate of one John McLaughlin.
 The bidding's currently at $1200(as of 10am PST). It's certainly going to be over my budget, but perhaps there's a Blackwing reader who'd be interested. Barring that, at least here's the artwork to peruse gratis.
 This one looks like a later example of Fred's pinups-late '40s, I'd guess. Incidentally, the initial listing had this as a pinup by "Frank" Moore, with no mention of any Disney studio relationship. Someone set them straight(it's signed, after all), but I wonder what it might have fetched if left unrecognized among the Elvgrens and other rarities that comprise the illustration auctions Heritage does.



A Disney Story Session-for the Camera, 1951

2012-02-27T10:29:03.637-08:00

I came across this today and thought I'd post it; I haven't seen it elsewhere although as one of many hundreds of such photos taken for publicity purposes, it's likely floating around somewhere. So here's a pretend-impromptu story session for "Alice in Wonderland" with some of the gentlemen of Disney's story department, including its first head, Ted Sears. Walt's holding the glasses he'd rather not be photographed in...actually, perhaps it really was an actual meeting. I wonder how many shots exist of Walt wearing his cheaters? There are some stats of Mary Blair's paintings down there amid the Milt Kahl model sheets; the sequence on the boards behind them is the Queen of Heart's croquet game.
The caption affixed to the reverse is reproduced here also. Erdman Penner, on the far right, died in 1956 aged 51; Ted Sears died two years later at just 58 years old. Winston Hibler passed away in 1976.


Just for the heck of it, here too is an example of one of Ted Sears' Christmas cards, upon which he expended a good deal of ingenuity and charm, and featuring his young family. This example comes from the Flickr stream of one molliesc, who posted a trove of them.